Q. I am part of a large extended family where some of us celebrate Christmas, others Diwali and others just want to go on vacation during the winter holidays. I enjoy all of it and tend to do different things at different times. The last couple of years I have been feeling lonely and not part of the festivities. I find the intense focus on celebration and shopping superficial. I would much rather have some quiet time together, doing things to help us get to know each other better. Yet, I don’t know how to introduce these ideas to my large family. Any suggestions?
A. You bring up a very meaningful concern and it sounds like your inner life wants space during this contemplative season. Even when we are with people we care about, if we are not connecting in a genuine or deeper way, we can feel lonely. Unfortunately, the holiday time has a lot of distractions to avoid the disconnection that families often feel or the conflicts that may be present underneath the surface. For some people even the intensity of feelings that arise during these times can be scary or overwhelming, so they avoid them by going to parties and giving gifts, without really connecting in a more satisfying way.
Changing patterns in a large, extended family is not easy. There will be a variety of needs, interests and motivations, especially with large age brackets and people celebrating different traditions or none at all.
Start by connecting individually or in a small group with family who you feel are most open to sharing more personally. Even the questions, “What do you most like about the holiday season?” “What is most challenging and what would you like to do differently this season?” can open up some candid dialog and feelings. Then share your own concerns and ideas, even if they are not well-formed. In this way you can begin to go beneath the customary layer of small talk, politics or just hanging around eating and drinking.
Families that do projects together and talk about them have a way of sharing themselves creatively. For example, if you just have some simple instruments-drums, bells, and rattles-you can teach a melody or two and create songs together. This can be as simple as singing a couple of ragas together or a song that everyone knows. Have some paper and paint handy and ask people to draw their favorite winter scene. Then each person can go around and talk about what they painted. Haiku, the Japanese form of poetry is another quick, simple and meaningful way to express a theme and share it with others.
This is not about performing or being the best. Rather these activities take people into a deeper space and build more intimacy without being too threatening.
Be prepared for some family members to immediately reject any such ideas so they can watch TV, drink, or talk about politics.
Best to let them be and enjoy yourself with those folks who want to try something different.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist of Indian descent in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com